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Apr 4, 2013

Seafarers' Singapore (Part 4)

Junction of Cecil Street and Telok Ayer Street, Singapore  c  1930

Previous:  Seafarers' Singapore (Part 3 )  of 4

We now make our way to Telok Ayer Street, passing the Cantonese area and glancing at gruesome photographs on display in the window of a particular Chinese medical clinic which specialises in the treatment of piles, illustrated in every gory detail in colour.

The century-old Eu Yang San Medical Shop in Chinatown, Singapore c 1930

 In Telok Ayer Street is the famous Thian Hok Keng (Hokien) Temple of the Goddess of Mercy.

This is a most interesting place of worship and contain relics brought here from China, which are said to be many hundreds of years old.  The building was erected 91 years ago and no nails have been used in any part of the construction, not even in the pagoda-shaped roofs.  Outside the temple gates, is the story-teller.  He reads to his audience with the aid of a lantern which is lit at about 7 p.m.  His supporters comprise mostly illiterate elderly Chinese, relaxing after a day's work in their clean clothes - or they may listen to some news from their homeland from a Chinese newspaper while on their way to night work.  At intervals, the reader pauses for five minutes when the collection tray is passed round and two cents is the usual individual contribution for a chapter, but those who stood whilst they listened were apparently not expected to contribute.
Storytellers outside Thian Hok Keng  c  1950

Singapore has a reputation erroneously for wild night-life and opium dens, but today (1970) the dens are singular, and medically, controlled.  They are confined to incurables who are now passing away their unfortunate lives in a twilight zone - a grim reminder of the wretched effects on the human being who falls prey to drugs.

Opium smoking on a boat  c  1970
A few streets away in Sago Lane, where we come across the colourful China-born Chinese custom of celebrating a relative's departure into the life hereafter.  The funeral parlours and death-houses are doing a good, reliable trade.  They contain the mortal remains of those who are dead or of those just waiting to die but already in their most valued earthly possession, their coffin.  Those people who you now see with black patches ontheir arm sleeves, are the friends and relatives paying their last respects, while eating and having cold drinks.  As part of the lying-in-state, the departed are surrounded by colourfully decorated paper palaces, limousines and heavenly paper money.  These paper effigies will be burned together with their personal clothing before interment to ensure that wealth and comfort awaits them when they arrive in the world beyond.

There were trips to the Gap in "T" Model Fords to drink a beer and admire the view and the New World Park, with its Chinese operas, Malay ronggeng, dancing, a talkie film, a ghost train, sideshows and the cabaret dance hall, where many men of the sea learned to dance.

The "Ghost Train" in Great World Amusement Park  c  1953

The Great World Amusement Park here and New World Amusement Park here .

There were late-night satay, skewered, spiced meat cooked over charcoal, at a Beach Road stall.  There were gin slings and curry at the old Sea View Hotel, in the heat of noon on Sundays - and to the music of an orchestra.  On Sunday evenings there were dinners on the lawn to the strains of a violin -  white shark-skin dinner jackets and long gowns - the tropic sea framed by palm trees, bending over the sand offering their hearts to the moon.

Portable satay man on poles in Singapore  c  1940

My first taste of satay at Beach Road on this blog.

Our world must sail away and bring back hundreds more new tourists to this island and so an absence of months ensues before our ship returns to these shores.  Had the Singapore fortune-teller told me that eight years hence (in 1942) my ship would receive two direct hits with bombs from enemy aircraft and many near-misses whilst alongside own car under attack from the Hertog rioters, I would have swallowed the anchor long before.  But who knows the answer to this magnetism towards Singapore?

The smells of copra and spices of the East, the smells of Singapore River, Kallang Basin and around the Yacht Club at the end of Trafalgar Street at now tide are not to be compared with the Botanic Gardens, but once favoured are not to be forgotten.

Remember the heritage Botanic Gardens bandstand in Singapore over a century ago?

What is the fascination of life in  Singapore is a question often asked.  It is difficult to define, but go away from the island on holiday or on business and when your aircraft circles over the fairyland of lights below, you get the message.

Welcome back to Singapore, as strongly as we seafarers did in the Thirties.

In conclusion of Ray Tyers' "Seafarers' Singapore" travellogue journal in 1930. This is Part 4 of 4 blogs in this series of bite-sized portions to share with everyone for the nostalgic memories of Singapore about 80 years ago.



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